Columbus Council cut funding for a third deputy marshal from Marshal Greg Countryman's fiscal 2016 budget on Tuesday to fund a new position in the city's Information Technology department.
The decision came after IT Director Forrest Tolle made a plea for a network engineer, which he said would save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars over time, and after council was informed of some spending habits within the Marshal's Office.
Tomlinson told council that Countryman has been keeping deputy positions open and transferring money for those salaries to other line items. For example, Countryman spent about $2,850 on a zero-turn radius lawnmower for use at the office's firing range, along with about $4,440 for a 12-by-24-foot storage building at the range and almost $7,000 for a camera surveillance system for the range, Tomlinson said. All that money was transferred from the salaries line item into operating funds.
Tomlinson also showed council pages of travel conference expenditures covering fiscal 2013 and 2014, which showed that the Marshal's Office spent $32,789 and $23,256, respectively, on travel-related expenses. Most of that money was transferred from his salary line item, made possible by holding one or two positions open at any given time, Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson also pointed to a $150 popcorn maker Countryman bought with operating funds.
After hearing both Tolle's plea for council to fill the $66,000 a year position and the report on the Marshal's Office, Councilor Skip Henderson suggested that the money might be found in the marshal's budget.
"Based on some of the other things we've talked about this morning I want to propose that we eliminate a position that has been used to fund travel, lawnmowers, buildings to hold the lawnmower and cameras to watch the building holding the lawnmower," Henderson said.
"It appears to me that this is clearly not an essential position."
Councilor Glenn Davis was more forceful in his assessment of Countryman's budget machinations.
"This is just not right," he said. "No city should ever be subject to such abuse of power. For elected officials to be in a position where they're making, in my opinion, irrational spending decisions, is just wrong. It's not right."
In the mayor's original proposed budget, Tomlinson had called for eliminating funding for six deputy marshal positions. In the add-delete process, council restored funding for four of the six and left the other two cuts in the budget.
Countryman responded by email to a request for comments on the developments. He said the cut would have a "huge impact" on his office.
"Council and the mayor refuse to recognize how many people use our office," he wrote. "I am also stunned that something like this would occur so randomly after the add/delete session was concluded."
Countryman also defended using salary funds for travel, training and items such as a lawnmower.
"Council has said repeatedly that once my budget was set I could use it as I see fit," he wrote. "These items were not frivolous or unnecessary."
Countryman said his travel spending was necessary to keep his deputies certified.